If you can boil water, you can learn how to steam foods. And that, in turn, will help make you a better cook. PICTURE: Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post.
In this era of programmable, appliance-specific cooking, it's easy to overlook one of the most reliable, widely used ways to render food properly: With steam. It is that simple: If you can boil water, you can learn how to steam foods. And that, in turn, will help make you a better cook.

Steaming has long been considered a healthful way to cook. Steamed vegetables retain more of their nutrients and unique flavour, even when different ones are cooked together. No added fats are needed. The chance you'll overcook ingredients is greatly reduced because of the gentle nature of steam heat - whether it's fish and seafood, whole eggs, dumplings, custards, rice, fruit or even certain cuts of steak.

Here's how to handle some foods for which the method works especially well:

Peas.
Place fresh or frozen ones in a perforated double-boiler type pot or in a fine-mesh strainer set over a few inches of simmering water in a pot. Cover and cook for about two minutes (add about 30 seconds for frozen), until the peas are a brighter shade of green.

Sticky rice. 
A glutinous variety of rice or sushi rice typically calls for a long soak and rinsing. Then it takes about 20 minutes of steam heat, in a cheesecloth-lined bamboo steamer over a pot of simmering water. The grains will be lovely and separate.

Frozen rice
Place in a fine-mesh strainer over a pot of simmering water. Cover and defrost until you can break up the block into individual grains.

Squash. 
Cut into thick slices or wedges. Place in a shallow glass baking dish with 2 to 4 tablespoons of water. Microwave on HIGH for four to six minutes, checking after the first four minutes, until tender enough to pierce with the tip of a knife.

Small potatoes
Place 230g of yellow-fleshed potatoes in a glass or other microwave-safe baking dish with a 1/4 cup of water. Cover with a vented glass lid or partially with silicone lid or with vented plastic wrap that does not touch the food. Microwave in five-minute increments until fork-tender.

Scallops. 
Line a bamboo steamer with a few layers of wide lettuce leaves. Place the scallops on the leaves, cover and steam for about eight minutes, or until the scallops are just opaque all the way through.

The Washington Post